WGA West President Chris Keyser sent a “private” email today to select members of the guild in a pitch for money to support the WGA political action committees’ lobbying efforts. Guild leaders, who oppose virtually all media mergers, used Fox’s proposed takeover of Time Warner as the drumbeat to scare up money to support its PAC’s ongoing political activities.
According to the guild’s latest filing with the Department of Labor, its political action committee spent $347,037 last year on “political activities and lobbying,” and it wants to raise even more this year. The PAC was formed in 2009, and the guild says that it is funded solely from voluntary contributions from its members. “WGAW assets will not be used to fund contributions to the WGAW PAC,” the guild told the Department of Labor. “WGAW PAC will solicit and raise voluntary contributions from the WGAW members, which will be used to support political activities on behalf of writers.” The guild’s PAC is administered by an 11-member committee that includes the guild’s elected officers and executive director. Day-to-day operations are delegated to a firm of election law attorneys.
In the supposedly private email, Keyser and negotiating committee co-chairs Chip Johannessen and Billy Ray pointed to a New York Times headline about the proposed Fox takeover of TW (“$80B Offer From Rupert Murdoch Puts Time-Warner In Play”) saying, “If this headline scares you — and it should — then consider this a call to arms.” The email said the pitch letter was “paid for” by the guild’s political action committee.
“As writers,” the guild leaders wrote, “we face a landscape today that the founders of our Guild would hardly recognize. For decades, there were dozens of significant buyers in television and movies. Then federal limits on mergers disappeared. FCC regulations requiring independent production in television were repealed. And the result was industry-wide consolidation, networks and studios combining, and independent production disappearing. Fewer movies being made. Fewer development deals. Smaller TV staffs. And lower quotes … because the industry was suddenly in the hands of only six — six! — conglomerates. And the Writers Guild, without a voice in Washington to protest, was unable to save the business from strangling itself.
“Now, those six conglomerates are threatening to swallow one another. Think of that. Between them, Fox and Time-Warner would control 40% of the industry’s writing jobs. What happens if more consolidation follows? What happens if one mega-company ends up devouring them all? The idea is almost too frightening to contemplate. But it’s also too possible to ignore.”
The guild leaders then made their pitch for more money to support the WGA’s political action committee.
“For the last several years,” they wrote, “the WGAW has been increasingly active in Washington: fighting off mergers, championing Net Neutrality, and distinguishing itself as a voice of reason on all media issues. But our PAC cannot exist without your support. Giving to the Guild PAC is vital to your future. The checks you write to your favorite Senate candidates cannot influence policy. But a powerful PAC, supporting candidates in the name of the WGA, gives us a fighting chance in the war against the corporate madness that threatens us all.
“The math of it is simple. The more candidates we can collectively support, the more influence we will have. Our Guild has already gained respect on Capitol Hill. Our position-papers are sought after and cited regularly on media issues. Of course, conglomerates like Fox and Time-Warner have influence too – so much so that some writers believe even trying to combat them is futile. It isn’t…When our Guild speaks, Washington listens. But to make sure our voices are heard, we need power. Simply put, we need you. This, then, is our call to arms. In the industry as it exists today, writers no longer have the luxury of staying out of politics. Rather, more than ever, we need a voice in them. Please, please, support our PAC by contributing here. Your future depends on it.”